As part of a larger, federal government-wide congressionally mandated initiative to reduce inappropriate payments, CMS has published its final rule on Medicaid / SCHIP payment error rate measurement. As expected, it represents a significant expansion of federal oversight of day-to-day state Medicaid operations and of the lives of Medicaid providers and Medicaid managed care organizations.

Medicaid Payment Error Rate Measurement:

The Medicaid Payment Error Rate Measurement (PERM) initiative is a complicated process but means that every state will undergo a detailed examination of paid claims, capitation payments, reimbursement and premium policies, coding, and more. States must turn over vast amounts of data every quarter, plus virtually everything else on rates, policies, and claims processing edits and audits.

CMS will hire a series of new contractors to examine all this, run samples, and identify errors. CMS will then set maximum acceptable error rates (based on what it or its contractors determine is an “error”) and then state must take corrective action. These corrective actions could include recovering payments, changing reimbursement policies, and revising claims processing requirements.

States Targeted for Federal Review:

States will rotate, with each state going through the entire process every three years. The states selected for the first round (FY 2006) are Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Minnesota, Arkansas, Connecticut, New Mexico, Virginia, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Wyoming, Kansas, Idaho, Delaware.

Second round states (FY 2007) are North Carolina, Georgia, California, Massachusetts, Tennessee, New Jersey, Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland, Alabama, South Carolina, Colorado, Utah, Vermont, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Rhode Island. Third round states (FY 2008) are New York, Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Indiana, Mississippi, Iowa, Maine, Oregon, Arizona, Washington, District of Columbia, Alaska, Hawaii, Montana, South Dakota, Nevada.

Opportunities and Challenges:

If CMS manages the process well and works cooperatively with states, the PERM may help (1) save taxpayer dollars, (2) improve the operations of the less sophisticated state Medicaid programs, (3) showcase the best run Medicaid shops and best fiscal agents, (4) help CMS develop greater respect for the hard work of states, (5) identify inappropriate provider practices across state lines, (6) facilitate comparative research and analysis of Medicaid, and (6) allow CMS and states identify, build, and share best practices.

However, PERM raises many practical concerns, especially given the enormous complexity of Medicaid and wide technical and programmatic variation among state Medicaid programs. Even if a state has a low error rate, the administrative burden could be intense, with a steep learning curve for CMS and the new federal contractors and endless arguments among the parties on what is or is not a genuine error. For states with high error rates, the implications include need to update systems, modernize procedures, redirect or replace fiscal agents, change payment and claims procedures, and much more. And add to this, controversial recoveries of federal dollars from states and providers.